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New Jersey employee claims whistleblower, racial harassment

Bergen County employees punished for doing the right thing may feel they occupy the area between a rock and a hard place. A whistleblower can be viewed as a snitch by supervisors and colleagues. Isn't changing jobs easier than putting up with an at-work backlash?

The State of New Jersey is being sued by one of its managers in the Division of Developmental Disabilities. The 11-year veteran caseworker's problems began last summer after he fielded a complaint about a disabled woman. The woman's mother called the manager to report a state-funded private agency did not ask the disabled person's permission before shaving her armpits and genital area.

The lawsuit claims the case manager's boss altered the report, apparently to downplay the abuse complaint. The report's submission occurred around the same time the caseworker suggested agencies paid by the state to help disabled people were misusing money. The manager reported the incident to the Civil Service Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity office.

The African-American manager said he later became the victim of racial and whistleblower harassment. The case manager found a stuffed monkey in his office filing cabinet. The monkey's neck was wrapped tightly with a string attached to a whistle, with a sign reading: "Whistle blow on this monkey."

The lawsuit said supervisors acted with hostility.The employee refused to comply with an order to get state-provided psychological counseling. Bullying and a suspension reportedly followed, until the manager was so distraught that he was forced to take extended sick leave in October.

Some Bergen County employees feel compelled to act, when they see illicit behavior by employers. Honesty about workplace wrongdoing can exact a price. Whistleblowers are often targets for harassment and termination despite laws forbidding employer retaliation.

Workers in this position may not know where to turn. An employment law attorney can explain the state and federal rights and protections available for whistleblowers.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Whistleblower sues NJ, claiming harassment and racially motivated prank" Susan K. Livio, Feb. 24, 2014

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